For the fourth time in two months, the United States Supreme Court today overturned an Alabama death penalty case in which EJI challenged the conviction and sentence affirmed by state courts. This time, the Court reversed because of concerns about racial bias in jury selection.
Christopher Floyd was tried by an all-white jury in Houston County, Alabama, where African Americans comprise 27 percent of the population. The prosecutor, Doug Valeska, has a documented history of racial discrimination in jury selection. The prosecution marked African American potential jurors with a “B” on its list of jurors to remove, then removed 10 of 11 qualified Black prospective jurors.
One of the Black jurors barred from jury service provided answers to all of the prosecution’s questions during jury selection, but the prosecutor said that she did not respond to any questions and so he could not provide a race-neutral reason for removing her. EJI argued on appeal that because the prosecutor’s assertion was not true, relief was required. The state courts nonetheless refused to grant relief.
The Supreme Court today granted Mr. Floyd’s request for review, reversed the state court decision, and ordered the state court to re-examine the case. The Court referred to its recent decision in Foster v. Chatman, in which it held that Georgia prosecutors illegally barred African Americans from serving on Mr. Foster’s jury because of their race.
Racial bias has been a longstanding problem in Alabama, where more than two dozen cases have been reversed after courts found that prosecutors engaged in intentional racial discrimination during jury selection. The Equal Justice Initiative has long argued that racial bias in jury selection is a serious problem in Alabama, particularly in capital trials, where too few prosecutors have ended the practice of unfairly excluding African Americans.